Adventurer of the Week: Mark's Glacier Pass Adventure

06. October 2016 —
Mark Katsaounis

Mark, an American/Greek traveller, shares his adventure hiking from Skógar, through the Fimmvöduháls glacial pass and down into Thórsmörk, the Valley of Thor. We caught up with Mark and he shared some of his insights from the trip.

What motivated you to visit Iceland?

The pictures were the main draw. A friend of ours visited Iceland a few years ago. We were really inspired by her pictures: it seemed like such a different place to visit. We also enjoy hiking and the outdoors in general, so it seemed like a great fit. It’s pretty amazing to see so many different landscapes in one place. I also got a pretty big reaction from the pictures I posted, and people have said: “oh, I have never thought of going to Iceland, but I kinda wanna go now!”

Mark Katsaounis

How long was your stay? Did you travel solo or with a group?

I visited with my wife and we stayed for 10 days. We visited Reykjavik and then rented a car to tour the Southeast (Skogar, Vik, Skaftafell, Jokulsarlón).

Which tour did you take and why did you choose it?

We did the Fimmvörðuháls hike, which starts at Skogar and ends at Thórsmörk. We’re pretty regular hikers and knew we wanted to do an extended hike without doing a full backpacking trip. Fimmvörðuháls seemed like the perfect fit because it’s about 15-16 miles and covers some really interesting and varied terrain. 

The outdoor stuff in Iceland really appealed to us. Despite being experienced hikers, we had read that the path was not always clear and that weather conditions can change quickly, so we decided to book with Icelandic Mountain Guides. It gave us peace of mind knowing that we were with someone who knew the trail and could keep us on pace to make our bus back to Skogar, which meant we were free to just enjoy our time on the hike.

It gave us peace of mind knowing that we were with someone who knew the trail and could keep us on pace.

What is one thing you will always remember about your tour?

The highlight of the tour was the sheer range and distinct changes of terrain over the course of 8-9 hours. We started in Skógar, which is greener and has lots of waterfalls from glacial runoff.

Next, we then moved into a more volcanic area, which felt like hiking on the moon. We passed the lava field from the 2010 eruption, which was a really stark contrast to the greenery of Skógar. Finally, the descent into the valley near Thórsmörk felt like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. 

We walked across this huge plateau and our guide, Quinton, who was great and set a good pace, revealed his fantasy to someday ride a horse gallantly across this plateau. I hope someday that becomes a reality for him!

Mark Katsaounis

What is something that you learned about Iceland that surprised you?

Iceland is quite new in terms how the earth is developing, so it’s like taking a geological trip through recent history. It was interesting to see and learn a bit about Iceland’s geology in the context of the receding glaciers. 

We did a short geological hike out to a Skaftafellsjökull from the Vatnajökull National Park visitor center and were able to see the difference in plant life from where the glacier had been 100 years ago to the area where it has most recently receded. 

I was also really surprised at how comfortable Icelanders were with English. They used common expressions and slang that you don’t usually find among non-native speakers. Having learned a second language myself, I know that level of mastery doesn’t come easily. I was impressed, it kinda blew my mind.

If you had more time in Iceland, what else would you like to see and do?

We were definitely interested in going to Snaefellsness and the Westfjords. I’d also like to visit in winter and see the Northern Lights. We didn't get to do a glacier walk, so we will add that in next time.

Mark Katsaounis

What tips do you have for people who want to visit Iceland?

I would highly recommend it! It's beautiful, it's so different, I tell people it’s like visiting the moon. 

Be sure to have at least a few good soaks in the hot springs: there are so many!

It’s a land of extremes. The weather changes very often! Bring layers, and if you are doing any hiking or backpacking be sure to research the best clothing options for your trip. Food is expensive and once you get out of Reykjavik, the variety of food available is pretty slim.

Food and drinks are not cheap in Iceland. We brought a lot of snacks (nuts, dried fruit, etc) with us from the U.S. It meant we didn’t have to spend time looking for food as we were driving along the Ring Road. We were also up and doing things before the local restaurant or gas station opened, so having some food with us meant we didn’t have to hang around hungry until 9 or 10am. We did make sure to have at least one really nice meal in Reykjavik and enjoyed a few morning sit-downs in the Old Harbor drinking coffee. 

We camped at Skógar, Skaftafell, and Landmannalaugar which saved us a lot on accommodation. It was also a great way to see Iceland. We literally camped right next to Skógafoss. Again, if you’re going to camp, make sure you are prepared for the weather. We have light- and travel-friendly camping gear, but if you don’t, it can all be rented in Reykjavík. 

Bring layers, and if you are doing any hiking or backpacking, be sure to research the best clothing options for your trip.

What adventure are you off to next? What is your next dream adventure?

We have nothing set in stone, but we are hoping to visit Greece next summer. I am half Greek so I try to visit every few years. I’d say visiting Iceland in winter has also jumped up to the top of my list.

When he is not crossing glacier passes, Mark is a professional musician by trade, you can check out some of his work at Rhythm Kats

Mark’s day long hike is only one of the many features that make it an unforgettable experience. Book your tour and join us for an excursion that is guaranteed to make memories that last a lifetime.  

About the Author

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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